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There’s the Rub

It won’t go away

/ 12:06 AM April 09, 2014

Edwin Lacierda does not want Al Vitangcol to go on leave and says Vitangcol has earlier done that to give way to an inquiry. Which is all very fine except for one thing: Vitangcol is the general manager of the Metro Rail System, and the one that conducted the inquiry where he went on leave was the Department of Transportation and Communications itself. Naturally, it found him innocent of the crime.

But of course Vitangcol should go on leave now that he is being investigated by a body where he is not the judge, jury and (non-)executioner, quite apart from the accused. Which is the National Bureau of Investigation. That is the least he can do, though it wouldn’t hurt if he hung his head in shame and slunk away along with it. To say that the thing he is being accused of is a crime is to say that the thing the Ampatuans are being accused of is a crime. It is not a crime, it is an atrocity.

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The truly astonishing feature of this case in fact is how no one seems to be astonished that nothing has been done about it all this time. Everyone seems to regard it as par for the course, like other corruption issues, the only question being one of degree, or severity. In fact, it is not so at all.

It is not just a case of corruption, it is a case of extortion. Done breathtakingly barefacedly to the nationals of another country. Vitangcol is accused of trying to extort $30 million from Czech company Inekon for a contract to supply 48 coaches of the MRT. The extort try was supposedly done by Vitangcol’s bagman, Wilson de Vera, who consulted with him by cell phone on how much to charge Inekon for the approval. It was done in July 2012 at the official residence of Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar and Inekon CEO Josef Husek.

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The accusers in this case are not Filipinos who are used to lagay or being forced to cough up a portion of their profits—it could always be passed on to the hapless consumers, or commuters. They are nothing less than the CEO of a globally known company and the ambassador itself of a no-middling country. They have filed a formal complaint against Vitangcol, Rychtar affirming repeatedly that he has signed the complaint and stands by his word.

Which is to say that this is not just a case of corruption but of treason. It does not just stand to harm us financially, it stands to ruin our standing in the international community. It stands to spark a diplomatic scandal. It stands to paint us as a Ladrones Island, a nation of thieves. As Rychtar and Husek tell it, they were so shocked by the demand for money—as who wouldn’t be, people of their stature reduced to jeepney drivers being asked for tong by traffic cops—they were speechless. And found their voice only in an official complaint.

Which makes it truly astonishing as well that the case almost died after the DOTC itself cleared Vitangcol. When that verdict didn’t close the case, it burst it wide open. It submitted the most curious conclusions. If Vitangcol was innocent of the charge, then Rychtar and Husek must have been guilty of lying through their teeth. Then Rychtar and Husek must have been guilty of trying to ruin the good name of an official of another country—a grievous crime in particular for Rychtar, an ambassador. Then Rychtar and Husek must have been guilty of conspiring to taint, besmirch, malign another country, with staggering implications for its economic welfare.

Yet at no time did Vitangcol protest the malicious intriguing of the two officials. At no time did the DOTC suggest it was all a misunderstanding, what transpired was Greek, or Czech, to the Czechs, they mistook hospitality for arm-twisting. At no time did the Philippine government check the two Czechs’ propensity for manufacturing checkered stories.

The NBI itself says it will leave no stone unturned to determine “who is telling the truth.” Well, it’s its job to do that. But as a matter of common sense when was the last time the ambassador of a respectable country came out to damn an official of a host government for trying to extort money from him in-your-face? Between someone who has nothing to lose and everything to gain by telling the truth and someone who has everything to lose and nothing to gain from doing so, whom would you believe?

Congress itself is anxious to summon Vitangcol and De Vera, but Deputy Speaker Giorgidi Aggabao despairs of the effort. “The supposed probers are not judges sworn to impartiality but politicians with a natural disposition and propensity toward their party and allies. I anticipate that the members of the ruling party will enter the probe with a fixed judgment that no bribery ever took place. The minority will show a bent toward the other side of the issue. In the end, the probe will be all for naught.”

Not at all. The value of congressional inquiries is not really that they lay things out before the senators and congressmen, it is that they lay things out before the public. The first may be biased and partisan, but not so the second. The results of the inquiry may be predictable, but not so the questions. Who knows? Maybe a congressman or two might ask why Mar Roxas did nothing about Vitangcol.

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Lest we fail to note it, the extortion happened during his watch, while he was still DOTC head. At the very least, it can’t speak well of his leadership abilities if he had no idea what his people were doing. At the very most, why didn’t he call the NBI to look into Rychtar’s accusation instead of agreeing to the notion that the best entity to sit in judgment over the guilt or innocence of a high-ranking DOTC official was the DOTC itself? Why is Vitangcol still there? What, Roxas thought a complaint of this explosive nature by the Czech ambassador came government’s way every day?

Some things don’t just go away.

This one won’t.

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TAGS: Al Vitangcol, Al Vitangcol III, bribery, Czech Ambassador, Edwin Lacierda, extortion, Giorgidi Aggabao, Inekon, Josef Husek, Josef Rychtar, Mar Roxas, Metro Rail System, metro rail transit, MRT, Wilson De Vera
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